A conversation with the popstar and the girl beneat
Published in Nuda:Ego
Emma: Have you read Jung?
Zara: No, but I did read Harry Potter. Is it Ljung with LJ-?
Emma: Jung with a J.
Zara: I took 2 courses of psychology in school, but it obviously didn’t stick.
Emma: The first time I worked with you you were 14, you were literally a child, do you recall?
Zara: Yeees, on my very, very first music video* (*Under my shades, 2013)! It was my first big production and it was insane, they really had me child slave laboring on that video, we were there for like 48 hours.
Emma: It was pretty gruesome.
Zara: You styled me in like 20 different looks and the director was all faster, faster, get going, move it, and every look was really a head-to-toe makeover. I didn’t even know who Sailor Moon was at the time (one of the looks was Zara made up as Sailor Moon), I was that young, but in hindsight I liiive for that video, it’s fucking fierce!
Emma: I have a theory about you. You just happen to be very good at singing but you were never really that interested in music, you see yourself as a dancer.
Zara: Yes, that’s kinda true! Sometimes I wonder if I really wanted to be an artist or if I just had that extreme hunger for attention and just happened to be really good at singing as a child, which made people go Yes, keep doing that, this is what you were born to do!. I got that constant encouragement as I grew up and I never questioned it, and in combination with me being really outgoing and immodest it seemed conspicuous.
Emma: You seem to have a certain perseverance.
Zara: I’m actually reading a book about that right now! Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. She studied why certain people graduated from a top military school and why others didn’t and it has nothing to do with strength, talent, grades, merit, anything – it’s all just grit. Talent is just one component, you don’t need to be a genius, just a person that does it over and over and over again. As an artist you’re always one track from your big break, but I was lucky with my first single Uncover so I never really had to be perseverant to reach success. I think I got lucky.
Emma: You were unyielding at 14. After like 24 hours on set you hid in a corner and had a micro breakdown, then you swiftly pulled yourself together and got back in front of the camera as if nothing had happened.
Zara: It is what it is. When it’s on, it’s on – I just go. I don’t ever remember crying, I just remember being there for a really fucking long time, it felt like a week. Did I really cry?
Emma: Yes. I felt like a predator for treating you like a fellow adult to get you to perform like one and felt bad about this for years.
Sometimes I wonder if I really wanted to be an artist or if I just had that extreme hunger for attention…
Zara: Right, but I think I appreciated that, I wouldn’t have liked being treated like a child. I’ve always had huge respect for adults and authority and it’s only recently, at 24, that I’ve been able to hang out with people older than myself cause I’ve always seen adults as adults and never really felt part of that world, do you know what I mean?
Emma: You were quite rambunctious as a teen. Does it come from being put under strong authority; teachers yelling at you, parents yelling at you, resulting in a sense of powerlessness?
Zara: Yes, maybe, but I always respected it, like, I knew my place. I realized that someday I will get there but now is not the time. I was like, sure, I can have a conversation with adults, work with them, have a laugh with them but I never had the urge to have adult friends per se.
Emma: That’s probably for the better, if you did you might have become a former child star with DUI:s and drug charges.
Zara: Or worse. I get if kids want to hang out with adults, but the other way around? When I see a 13/14 year old now, I’m like… What do we have in common? Not that much. All the adults I’ve hung out with have always been people I work with, like my A&R, and I always felt like they had more power than me; this is my corner and that’s theirs. It took a really long time for me to realize that it was the other way around; that they actually work for me.
Emma: I get the feeling that you are pretty self-conscious?
Zara: I hope so. I’m bordering on painfully self-consciousness. I’m also mindful of people knowing that this is the case. My ego tries to assert itself by proving that it doesn’t, thereby proving that it does – I’m aware of my self-awareness and I do care what people think. I sometimes wish I was different; it’s taxing and it would be nice to be more like whatever, let it go, happy go lucky y’know, but all criticism – even hate – is constructive to me. But ‘hate’ to me is also when someone states ‘you’re not flawless‘, hahah.
Emma: I think I relate to fame because I was bullied, it seems similar in that you’re forced to troubleshoot yourself by having every possible flaw and error disclosed which forces you into a thorough self-examination where you have to figure out what of the criticism has bearing and hopefully build yourself stronger from there?
I really don’t have a style bug in me, I have no compass for what’s cool at all.
Zara: Yeah, and it’s soo hard. When I used to have a bad day I would search my name and read comments to confirm that I’m a lousy person – but I actually haven’t done that for 8 months now, it feels like I’ve been to rehab. At the same time I would work on refuting it in a parallel part of my brain, looking for that validation: ‘You’re beautiful, you’re the best‘, bla bla. The weirdest part of it is reading the stuff where people haven’t @:ed me because that wasn’t for my eyes to see. That feeling of getting to know the naked truth, which it of course isn’t since they don’t know me, but it’s their truth. It feels so fucking good that I stopped doing that though, cause it’s honestly like going to the bathroom and slashing your wrists, it’s an obvious self-destructive behaviour.
Emma: I don’t think those comments are innocent reflections though, I think they are perhaps even more meant for you to find.
Zara: You think? Honestly, it’s worse when people aren’t straight out mean – cause that’s just beyond, like whatever – but when people laugh at you… That’s the worst.
Emma: They do that to test you. Seems human and like a pretty reasonable reaction.
Zara: I’m bothered by the fact that not every person on this planet loves me! That there are people out there that are like ‘Ew, Zara Larsson, really not my vibe’. Even though I feel that about a lot of people too!
Emma: Are you trying to eradicate your ego? I think everyone is a bit obsessed with seeing themselves through the others’ eye, looking for an absolute objective truth that doesn’t exist.
Zara: I would scroll when I had anxiety, not knowing what I was looking for, good or bad, and not stop until I’d completely disassembled myself and that gnawing low self-esteem gets to indulge. Come to think of it, I tend to do it when I’m feeling pretty good about myself, and then I get a dip from it and then I seek validation. When shit happens in my real life I don’t have the emotional energy to seek out the negativity. I guess there’s some “truth” in how others see me and that has had me so preoccupied all my life cause it’s super important to me to be liked by others, more so than by myself. And I like myself, I think I’m pretty good! Nice, fun, cool! But it’s super important to me that others agree because otherwise what’s the point?
Emma: Seems like a never-ending project?
Zara: Definitely, haha
Emma: If you get 99.9-100% of people to love you unconditionally, then what? Cue impostor syndrome.
Zara: No doubt. I think you have to be a bit kokobängbäng if you want to be famous, to strive for that. Do I really want to be that kind of person for the rest of my life? Is it attractive and is it something that will make me feel good? Constantly chasing validation. Sure, yeah yeah, it’s beautiful how music connects people and passion for creativity and arts and all of that, but it comes with so much other stuff and I would lie if I said I wasn’t aware of that. It wasn’t like ‘OMG, I didn’t realize that people would recognize me in the street!’ – that was literally all I wanted! I wanted it probably as much as creating music, and now I’m at a point in my life where I question that need. It’s a fucking weird thing to want to be famous.
Emma: Yeah. What’s the end goal?
Zara: Exactly. To get so famous that you can’t go out without four lifeguards literally pushing people away from you while photographer’s are taking pictures? I was in Mexico the other day and I was just walking on the beach and thought to myself ‘this is so nice, to be able to talk to people and roam the streets’, and even in Stockholm… Three years ago, in London, everyone in the street recognized me but it’s really calmed down, I’m not at that peak now. I guess it fluctuates. One part of me feels sad about it cause my ego does identify with that public figure, that persona, – and I think it should – but at the same time it’s not really me and it’s so fucking nice to just be able to genuinely connect with people for real.
I sometimes feel like God, why did I take on this feminist role.
Emma: Do you find it hard to live up to world-renowned artist Zara?
Zara: Sometimes I’m almost embarrassed for being so normal. People come up to me and are like ‘WUT, you still live in Stockholm? WUT, in this street? I thought you had staff!’, and I’m like ‘Should I…? Did I miss something?’. It’s another universe and so far from what I have but maybe I do want that…? I don’t know. There’s the cultural difference too, compared to LA for example – which really inspires me when I want to feed into my famous ego -, everyone’s so rich, so successful, at least according to themselves – everyone’s their own biggest fan. They’re so fucking prosperous. Like, shit, maybe I should just step up my game, try the whole ‘fake it til you make it’ thing, I’ve never done that, what does it feel like? I don’t know. I’m even embarrassed about telling my friends I’m going to the studio to make music…
Emma: …Cause it’s a run-down basement in St Eriksplan* (*middle class residential neighborhood in Stockholm)?
Zara: Yes, exactly, hahah.
Emma: Do you want a custom-built walk-in closet full of Birkins in a gated community?
Zara: A part of me wants that, absolutely, livin’ la vida loca – I’m never satisfied, never full, I will never sit down and say ‘good, I got what I wanted out of life‘. If anything I’ll choose another path that gives me the same amount of validation, like; ‘I’m an actress now!’, haha.
Emma: Do you see yourself as a role model?
Zara: What does that even mean? I’m trying to think of who I consider a role model. My biggest idol is still Beyonce.
Emma: She’s the ultimate female illusion; picture perfect wife, mother and entrepreneur, She’s almost an avatar.
Zara: I can definitely see that now. I just think she’s the best artist; she can sing like no one else, perform like no one else, she delivers in an insane way. But I don’t feel that teenage worship, that’s faded now. I understand that she’s just a normal person, a mom of four, even though she’s a mom on a yacht with nannies and chefs. Good for her! She’s perfect, at least in what she chooses to show, and I don’t think I ever wanna be that perfect.
Emma: You’re perfect even when you try to be imperfect.
Zara: God, tell me everything!
Emma: You’re trying to get me to roast you!
Emma: People find you annoyingly perfect.
Zara: It’s funny cause I live for people who are problematic.
Zara: I would want to be able to do that but I guess it all comes back to that self-consciousness. Like I said, the worst thing I could ever imagine is being mocked or laughed at, or get canceled for some shit. I sometimes feel like God, why did I take on this feminist role, which I did as a teenager. What I did was literally fight grown men online. And that’s definitely a strong suit – debating -, and I did find a huge part of myself and grew into my opinions through it, which made me who I am today. It came out of that passion. It started with me telling one guy to fuck of for some reason then more men came along and it just snowballed from there. I got this status as “feminist-Zara” and I still am her but I don’t feel the need to show it as much, cause I know where I stand. I’m not interested in fighting with random people, sometimes I wish I could just be a normal sexy girl, take a stripper job, fuck it, why did I put myself in a position where I’m not allowed to have layers?
Emma: I’m glad I didn’t have to go through that phase in public.
Zara: I think it’s important for teenagers to find themselves and just… FUCK, i was so angry! And that rage ushered me forward. It really was like that. But now I’m like… Do I want to be an angry person fighting people for the rest of my life? Can I just be a sexy woman?
Can I just be a sexy woman?
Emma: It’s actually disgusting to go through the transformation from child to woman.
Zara: I wanted to fight it because I didn’t understand how people could even think like that. How can they not reason like me, how can they not see that I’m right, see what I see? It’s a shock to see the world for what it is. I don’t come from a political family, like my mom never explained this, I had to discover it for myself. I can still discuss my friends and we disagree on a lot of things but I don’t know if I have it in me to reply to banter from online-strangers anymore.
Emma: I don’t believe in online discussions, they’re futile. You need another human’s actual gaze to not turn shameless, people think they’re debating bots.
Zara: I’m not gonna do it, I’m passing the baton. I’m not gonna quarell on Twitter as a part of my career, but sometimes I really miss angry teenage Zara that didn’t give a fuck. I used to care less. Like, how do I tap into her passion?
Emma: Once she leaves, she’s never coming back, that’s how it works.
Zara: Don’t say that, haha I just get more and more delicate the older I get, I feel?
Emma: At least you maxed out your teenage angst.
Zara: Hopefully one also becomes more and more empathetic and understanding progressively over time. Today I can have a discussion with anyone and understand how they reason and see where they’re coming from, even if I don’t agree. It’s more interesting.
Emma: Kids are dogmatic.
Zara: There’s beauty in being an impassioned teen, it’s raw and authentic even when it’s stupid.
Emma: How do you view social media nowadays?
Zara: I really don’t care about IG, I really don’t give a fuck. I miss the old gram when you would shoot straight in the app, a picture of me eating a sandwich, ad a frame.
Emma: Twenty blurry, unedited posts from the same event…
Zara: It’s so boring now, even what is presented as spontaneous it feels elaborate and planned in detail. Hardly anything on there feels authentic or inspiring anymore, that’s why I like TikTok, I watch people lying in bed just talking about random shit, zero posing.
Emma: I feel like I’m having a stroke every time I go on there.
Zara: I spend hours on end in there, I was on TikTok all night last night, I literally didn’t sleep one second, I’m not joking.
Emma: They removed the clock from the interface to make you lose track of time, it’s like casinos, they don’t have windows cause time isn’t supposed to exist there.
Zara: But it’s so much more spontaneous! I find the thought of posting super scary though, I feel like my mom’s friend that just made the switch from FB to IG; what would I say, what would I do, how would I even present myself? I wanna be this cool mysterious femme fatale but I also wanna be the girl in bed eating ostbågar* (*Swedish version of cheetos) talking about whatever pops in her head. I find this image thing really hard tbh. Who “am” I? I don’t have a clue, hahah!
Emma: Most people don’t have a management telling them what to do.
Zara: I’ve had it very chill. I actually wish I’d had someone saying do this or be like that cause honestly; I really don’t have a style bug in me, I have no compass for what’s cool at all. My style can be summarized as “UGGS”, see what I’m saying, haha. I have a great sense of style in my head but materializing it is a whole other thing. No one ever told me how to act or what to do, I just went ahead with it without ever sitting down to think about what I want to say or how I want to come across. I never even thought about what my sound is or anything like that. Maybe I should have? Or maybe it just becomes what it’s supposed to be.